John Corbett with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside
Our ancestors took Advent, (the weeks before Christmas), very seriously. It was almost akin to Lent in the line of fasting, penance and prayers. In our schooldays, life had become slightly more secular. Our parents and their contemporaries focused mostly on material matters, like fretting about having ample rations of food and family treats for Christmas. They also ensured that animals received extra portions around this time. Paying outstanding bills was generally done before Christmas.
Distant friends and relatives were remembered. In our house, presents of fowl were sent to relatives in Dublin and other parts of the country. Our neighbours did likewise. It must have been quite a chore for the postmen who had to deliver the extra items to their various destinations.
The fowl were unfrozen and I often wondered what condition were they in when they were delivered. We didn’t receive any information about that so it was assumed that they were edible. I suppose even if they hadn’t been, the recipients would have been too polite to let us know.
In the early part of the month markets were keenly scanned to ensure that sellers got the best prices for turkeys. Guinea hens also featured in the Christmas market. Geese were sold too. However, some of them were kept for the Christmas Day and New Year meals.
My father much preferred goose to turkey and it was well into the sixties before turkey became the main dish at our table. Hens and ducks could be disposed of at the local towns. A trader called Hannon used to come to Mountbellew and he bought fowl from breeders. But turkeys were the real money-spinners. Good prices ensured that householders could look forward to a happy and relatively wealthy Christmas.
That is not to say that religious matters were neglected. Members of the family were expected to go to Confession and Communion and ignoring the custom would have drawn unwelcome attention to the offender. Nearly all households had a special time for the recitation of the Rosary. Many recited it just before they went to bed but Dad insisted in saying it early in the evening.
“What’s the point in praying, when you’re half asleep?” was his motto.
Rosaries were normally longer at this time of year because absent ones had to be included. It reminds me of ‘The Trimmings of the Rosary’, a recitation that has often appeared in Ireland’s Own.
The late Eamon Keane frequently aired it on Dinjoe’s ‘Take The Floor’, in the fifties and sixties. The gist of the poem was that there were so many additions to it, that the Rosary itself was a mere trimming, compared to the long list of prayers before and after it.
Decorations were less ostentatious than is the case at present but all families in our village placed big, red candles close to windows as a sign of welcome to wayfarers and less fortunate members of society. These were the only forms of extra illumination to be seen in local households back then.